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Week 6. Do I Need This Equipment?

Last week we covered the absolute essentials in terms of gear for the saltwater aquarium. This week we are covering some of the other really common gear you might see and some hobbyists even say is essential! A very similar list to last week, we will just give you a quick overview and try to guide you on whether or not you should invest in this piece of gear. 

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Table of Contents

This Week's Video:

Category one: Filtration

Similar to last week, most of this saltwater equipment is related to filtration. You can try to keep the filtration simple or get more advanced, it all depends on your livestock goals and budget!


If you have a larger aquarium, want to go bare-bottom, or just want try out some fancier equipment, you should get a sump! Many hobbyists would say that a sump is basically a necessity to run a modern saltwater aquarium. It certainly is not a necessity, but the benefits it adds are almost always worth it. 

There are different setups of sumps, and depending on what you really want to put inside it (big skimmer, refugium, etc.).  You could also DIY a sump, but its a good idea to save up and get a solid and reliable sump, you won’t regret getting the nicest sump that you can! 

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer is an awesome piece of filtration, that most advanced setups use. It helps removes a lot of waste, old food, and some other undesirables. Because it collects all this waste in a cup at the top, it actually fully removes the waste from the system, unlike a filter sock.

It adds a solid level of redundancy, and allows you more leeway when it comes to water change frequency. If you plan on feeding heavy, going bare-bottom, or just want more peace-of-mind, definitely get a protein skimmer.

There are lots of brands, types, and sizes, but really any skimmer with a good reputation that fits the size of your saltwater aquarium will work!

Media Reactors

Media reactors are essentially big bottles or canisters that are meant to hold some sort of filtration media and essentially allows you to make the filtration media more effective as well as have more of it overall!

Do you need one? Absolutely not, but it is a useful piece of gear to add efficiency and redundancy to your filtration arsenal. Overall it is a simple addition, it just depends on if you have the money and the willingness to add an extra layer of complexity. If you anticipate having issues with keeping your water clean, or want to go minimalist in other areas, a reactor can help make up for that!

Live Rock and Sand

When we say “Live” rock or sand, what we mean is that the rock and sand has been in an established aquarium or even pulled from the ocean. This is really good when it comes to creating a resilient and established aquarium, because these will have amazing levels of biodiversity. However, there is always a chance that you will also introduce some more pests, which you will have to spend time dealing with.

In recent years, Live rock and sand has become more rare and expensive, but still regarded highly. It is really just a risk calculations, would you rather deal with potential pests or all the potential issues of going through all the “growing pains” of a sterile aquarium.

Refugium and Algae Turf Scrubbers

A refugium is a separated section of the total saltwater aquarium system where you may house algae, grow copepods, or separate injured corals, fish, etc. Refugium’s can have many different purposes and you can specialize it depending on what you want out of it.

If you have a finicky fish like a sea horse or a mandarin dragonet, then you can use the refugium to grow copepods. If you have a fish that got hurt or an anemone that keeps moving too much, you can also isolate them in here.

As well, you can use the refugium to grow macro algae for filtration. The algae helps remove some waste toxins, and then you just throw out excess algae every few weeks. That is also the main purpose of algae turf scrubbers, basically fully specializing into the filtration capabilities of algae. However, they are quite expensive, so not likely that you will want one when you can accomplish similar things with a refugium. 

Filter Socks, Filter pads, and Sponges

All of these are just a method of mechanical filtration, which helps remove physical particles from the water and make your water clearer. What specific media you use doesn’t matter too much, just choose something you like, as you will have to clean these often! 

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Category two: Situational Gear

This category covers common gear, but whether you need it or not, really depends on your specific situation. If you are wondering whether or not you need something, hopefully we will clear it up for you here!

Stand and Leveling Mats

A stand is simply where you put your aquarium on top of. Most aquarium will have a dedicated stand because you want it to be strong enough, have room for filtration and other gear underneath, and be water resistant. With smaller aquariums, you can place it on a desk or a dresser.

You could get a custom made or a DIY aquarium, but make sure to do a lot of research because the last thing you ever want is for your stand to fail. However, if you want your aquarium and stand to fit a very specific interior design, then this may be a good choice for you!

A leveling mat is usually a piece of foam that goes under rimless aquariums that negates any potential bumps or issues to make sure you aquarium is safe from pressure points. Most aquariums that are rimless already come with a precut mat, but occasionally you might find one without a mat, so just go ahead and pick one up, then cut it to size.

Auto Top Off (ATO)

We have covered this many times before, but basically all it does is automatically adds freshwater as it evaporates from the aquarium. This is a crucial function when it comes to maintaining stability, because as water evaporates, the salinity increases. You could do this manually, but if you ever leave on a vacation or simply forget, you will regret not having an ATO! 
It certainly is not necessary, but I personally believe it is something you should always get at some point, it just makes your life easier and adds redundancy. 

Calcium and Alkalinity Test Kits

Coral will consume calcium and alkalinity as they grow, and while some of it will get replenished through water changes, it won’t always be enough. If you have a ton of corals, especially fast growing SPS, you will almost certainly need to keep an active eye on your water parameters. Generally speaking, having test kits available will always be good, just so that you can be more in tune with what is going on within your aquarium! 

Dosing Pumps 

If you notice that your water parameters are looking depleted, even after water changes, dosing might be a necessity for you. You could do this by hand, but you can also automate this by using dosing pumps.  They allow you to be much more consistent with your dosing, which is extremely valuable as corals value stability! If you decide to get a dosing pump, do the math and research to make sure you get one that fits your setup well. 

Fans and Chiller

If you live in a very hot climate or are trying to run a cold water aquarium, then you might need to get a fan or a chiller to actually keep your water temperature down. For a normal tropical reef that you may need to cool once in a while, fans are what you will need. Chillers are only really for cold water aquariums, and are much more expensive. It also very a good idea to get a temperature controller that can automatically turn on your fans when the temperature in your saltwater aquarium rises too high!

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